If you didn’t get the clue from Darius Dondermonger, I enjoy heroes with interesting backstories. A cheese maker can become a famed ranger. Your cleric may have just been a mercenary, or a candlemaker. That butcher in the village that was conscripted? They’re now one of the realm’s greatest fighters.
Backgrounds are the D&D rule that best embraces this concept in 5e. Toss in a dose of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything Chapter 1: Section: This Is Your Life and you’re on your way to having a backstory that embraces the pre-hero version of your character.
Still, it takes a player that is willing to embrace that zero part of your zero-to-hero journey. It’s up to you to embrace the idea that a fence maker can become a powerful sorcerer.
That’s essentially what the “My Next D&D Character Is…” thought-bombs are over on twitter. They are the embrace that these unconventional Dungeons & Dragons concepts are as valid as the the mercenary, the head of the local thieves guild, the student-wizard, the acolyte-cleric. Normal people get caught up in grand stories. Your adventuring party and character creation should embrace that.
Throw off the yoke of convention and make the story that you want to tell. Make the character that embraces some small aspect of you, your friends, or just that person down the street – amplify that and create. All stories are valid. Everyone can become a hero.
For the most part, when creating these types of characters I start with the Folk Hero Background (the Guild Artisan is #2), and then remove all of the skills, languages, and tools. The mechanics are then built around the profession. Use the tool that makes sense, add two skills that fit the closest to the concept, and then add a language or another tool to round out the idea.
In DnDBeyond.com this is done in standard character creation during step 4, custom background. There’s then a choice of 2 skills + [options]. You will also be asked which feature to adopt (Rustic Hospitality is likely the best). It’s quick and easy, and part of the core system as 5th edition is designed.
The more complex way is to partner with your DM to build custom backgrounds from scratch, or connect with me and take one of my 40+ concepts out for a test drive.
Who is your next zero-to-hero?